New Study Could Pressure VA to Expand Agent Orange Benefits- ProPublica

More than four decades after the end of the Vietnam War, research is still showing the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange. The latest findings: An association between exposure and high blood pressure.

by Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-Pilot

Nov. 15, 2016, 11 a.m.
A new study has found a close relationship between Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War and high blood pressure, a conclusion that could lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to dramatically expand the number of veterans eligible for compensation.

podcast_logo_2The study, published last week by VA researchers in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found a higher rate of hypertension among members of the Army Chemical Corps who handled Agent Orange during the war compared to those who didn’t. Corps members who served in Vietnam but did not spray the chemicals also had a higher rate of hypertension than their peers who served outside Vietnam.

Both results were statistically significant and add to a body of evidence linking Agent Orange exposure and hypertension.

The findings come 41 years after the close of the Vietnam War and decades since the last supplies of Agent Orange were incinerated. Since then, veterans have become increasingly distrustful of the VA. They maintain that their exposure to Agent Orange, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin, has harmed their own health and has been passed on to their children.

A VA working group has been studying the latest scientific literature since March to determine if any illnesses should be added to the agency’s list of diseases for which vets are automatically entitled to compensation if they served in Vietnam. Specifically, the group has been looking at new evidence linking bladder cancer, under-active thyroid, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypertension to Agent Orange exposure.

The VA had been expected to announce its decision this year, but officials now say that will be left to the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

“For this administration, the deadline for proposing new rules for potential new presumptions [of service connection to herbicide] has passed, and this will become work for the new administration to take to completion,” VA officials said in a written statement first reported last week in the newspaper Stars and Stripes.

Hypertension is the most common ailment among veterans seeking health care at the VA—indeed it is one of the most common ailments among older adults generally.

The study released last week found the prevalence of hypertension among members of the Army Chemical Corps to be higher than among other aging veterans. Although most of the Agent Orange used in Vietnam was sprayed from Air Force planes, the Army Chemical Corps also sprayed the herbicide from hand sprayers and helicopters.

Researchers analyzed responses from about 3,000 members of the Army Chemical Corps who participated in a 2013 survey. The research team then verified their self-reported exposure to Agent Orange by using dioxin levels in their blood and checked their self-reported blood pressure against medical records and in-home testing.

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